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Barbie really does make young girls want to be thin


We've long suspected that the body shape of dolls can impact what girls think of their own bodies.

Now, new research in the Sept. issue of Body Image ( an international, peer-reviewed journal that publishes scientific articles on body image and human physical appearance) confirms what we've always believed to be true.

The study, conducted among 6 - 8-year-old girls, revealed that girls who played with thin dolls desired thinner body shapes even after just a few minutes of playtime.

When girls played with full-figured dolls, it suppressed their desire for thin body shapes.

Related: Smart dolls for smart play

One group of 112 girls, ages six through eight, were randomly exposed to one of four conditions -- thin Barbie dolls (not the new ones introduced earlier this year) or full-figured Tracy dolls dressed in a swimsuit or modest clothing.

A second group of 112 girls (also ages 6 -8) were exposed to one of four conditions containing unfamiliar dolls of different body size (thin vs. full-figured) and in different types of dress (modest vs. swimsuit).

"Girls who played with full-figured dolls showed less body dissatisfaction after doll exposure compared to girls who played with thin dolls. Playing with unrealistically thin dolls may encourage motivation for a thinner shape in young girls," says the study abstract.

Mattel, the makers of Barbie dolls, already discovered the wisdom in making dolls with more realistic body types. In January, the company released Barbie dolls with three new body types: petite, curvy and tall.

The Body Image journal study comes at a time when body image is top of mind.

During New York Fashion Week (which runs through Sept. 15), fashion expert Tim Gunn criticized the American fashion industry for turning its back on plus-size women.

Designer Christian Siriano, was one of the few designers to send plus-size fashions down the runway during fashion week.

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Siriano -- who has recently signed on to design a second collection for specialty-size retailer Lane Bryant -- cast five models size 12 and up in his show and subsequently earned kudos for having the most diverse runway of the season.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.